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Dare to be Digital winners revealed

The winners of the UK’s premier computer games design competition have been announced at a special event in Dundee.

Dare to be Digital, hailed as the best ‘proving ground for the interactive entertainment sector’, held its 2006 Awards Ceremony at the University of Abertay Dundee, originator of the six-year-old contest.

The three main prizes for 2006, each worth £2000, have been won by Artisan with ‘Metalheads’, for ‘Most Commercial Potential’; Log2n with Flux, for ‘Greatest Innovation and Creativity’, and Rule of Thumb with Gal-ex:Spatial Delivery, for ‘Best Use of Technology’. An additional £1000 prize for ‘Best Use of Screenwriting’ went to Phaigo Interactive for their game Spaceport.

Artisan’s Metalheads is a game aimed at the Nintendo DS platform in which the central character Meta uses magnetism to help the tiny Metalheads to fight their foes. The judges were impressed by the highly effective use of 2D characters in a 3D style environment. Artisan are all students at Abertay University.

In Log2n’s highly innovative Flux game, the player builds a network of power nodes driven by music of their choice using click free gestures. This game really excited the judges as something radically different with potential in many different ways. Log2n are from Algoma University in Ontario, Canada.

Rule of Thumb’s Gal-ex:Spatial Delivery features two central characters trying to collect packages from their crashed delivery spaceship. The team’s professional approach to using technology to deliver the working game within the timeframe impressed the judges. Rule of Thumb are all from Northern Ireland.

Phaigo Interactive’s Spaceport is a first-person drama in which the player operates a space station orbiting the Earth, servicing travellers’ ships but with a fractious and argumentative crew.

In addition to the main awards, the Virtuoso Prize went to Nicholas Koumentakis- of the Phaigo Interactive team; ‘Best Programmer’, went to Alan McNicholas of Rule of Thumb, ‘Best Artist’, to Yin Su (Jason) of Phaigo Interactive, and ‘Best Team Leader’ (£500), to Gavan Acton of Log2n/Flux. Best International Scholar (£500) was Pradeep Dewars from India who joined Artisan at the start of the contest; the Best Team Player prize (£500) was, for the first time, awarded to an entire team – Rule of Thumb.

Seven teams, each of six students, have spent the past 10 weeks working night and day to develop prototype video games ready to pitch to investors. The teams have been based at Abertay University with access to its cutting edge facilities.

A final flurry of activity preceded an intensive judging session in which each team pitched their games to an expert panel of industry insiders. Judges were not only looking for the most creative ideas, but those that fulfilled the greatest market potential. During the competition, the students received help from industry specialists and a weekly allowance of £170.

Chairman of the judges and master of ceremonies at the awards - which took place at the University of Abertay’s student centre - is Electronic Arts’ Executive Producer & Vice President, Richard Leinfellner, who continues to be one of Dare’s strongest supporters.

“It has been great to work with Dare for the fourth year running” he says, “ I am continually impressed with the quality of talent this innovative & unique experience manages to attract. It is by far the best pre-employment proving ground for the interactive entertainment sector.”

Alongside Leinfellner on the judging panel was a galaxy of industry experts, including: Jon Jordan, Technology Editor, Develop magazine; Bruno Frayling-Kelly, NESTA Creative Pioneer and a former Dare winner himself; Julie Adair, Head of New Media, Learning and Communities at BBC Scotland; Stephen McFarlane, Rare; Mark Grossi, Chief Technology Officer, NCR; Fred Hasson, TIGA; Darren Booker, Autodesk, and Aaron Puzey, Denki.

The range of projects being undertaken by students included - multiplayer/online, traditional interactive, mobile, first person shooter, action arcade, 3rd person puzzle based, narrative-led and music driven fantasy games.

Dare to be Digital is a competition open to students from Universities and Art Colleges and is based at the University of Abertay Dundee, which runs the competition in partnership with Scottish Enterprise Tayside and Dundee City Council.

Professor Bernard King, Principal & Vice-Chancellor of Abertay University, welcomed the guests to the awards ceremony and said: “It is clear that Dare is not only a competition testing and rewarding the participants’ creative and technological abilities, but an important venue to teach, inspire, and challenge in a real-world environment, and to foster a link between them and the games industry.

“Dare has already shown its relevance to industry and I am delighted at the number of Dare competitors who have gone on to join leading companies in games development like Electronic Arts, Rare, Denki, or set up their own companies following participation in Dare.

“The success of Dare has inspired us to introduce project-based learning throughout the University to allow to all our students to achieve the personal and professional growth which the Dare competition has fostered amongst its participants.”

Scottish Enterprise Tayside chief executive Shona Cormack said: “This year’s competition has obviously been as challenging and enjoyable for the contestants as always and we at Scottish Enterprise Tayside are delighted to have supported the event since its conception.

“I’d like to congratulate all those who have taken part and wish them the best of success in their future careers. I’m sure they will go on to help foster an entrepreneurial culture within the digital media sector and make sure Tayside’s reputation as a centre of excellence in the field continues to grow.’’

Councillor Joe Morrow, convenor of economic development with Dundee City Council, said: "The Dare to be Digital competition is a superb example of how the computer games industry in Dundee is continually progressing and producing innovative ideas.

"The city council is pleased to support this initiative, which blends imagination and enterprise in a superb combination to highlight the strength of the local digital sector.

"Dare is a long-running testament to the skill of local academics and the computer games industry and their ability to produce new generations of highly-skilled people."

The teams for Dare 2006 comprised four from Scotland, one from Northern Ireland, one from Ireland, and one from Canada. In addition, the Scottish Executive’s Fresh Talent initiative has funded seven places for Chinese and Indian students, each of whom has joined one of the teams.

Dare to be Digital is planning to almost treble in size next year, with up to 24 teams and 120 competitors taking part in regional heats around the British Isles, and a grand finale at the event’s home in the University of Abertay Dundee.

As well as recruiting a full-time organising team, Abertay is also scouting out four host locations and organising partners in Scotland, northern England (also covering Wales), southern England and Ireland (covering both north and south). At each location, industry panels will select teams to spend around nine weeks developing and refining their ideas and prototypes, before travelling to Dundee for a four-day final at Abertay. High-level sponsors are now being sought to facilitate the contests and local companies will be involved in mentoring and support.

Paul Durrant, Abertay’s Director of Business Development, said: “Independent consultants EKOS evaluated Dare to be Digital last year and urged us to be even more ambitious in expanding it and making it an internationally recognised model for developing and showcasing innovation and young talent in computer games production.

“The extremely high standard of this year’s competition encourages us that our expansion plans will enlarge the opportunities for talented arts and science students and graduates from all over the world, and create an even greater focus on originality, creativity and skills development achieved in real world environments.”

“We want to celebrate the young talent from all university courses that represent a pipeline for bringing top graduates to the video games industry. The 120 talented computer artists, programmers, designers and producers whom we anticipate taking part in next year’s competition will be the cream of the future talent of the industry.

Kevin Coe | alfa
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